Not any more

Nothing baffling about Day’s crime comments

In Canada on August 4, 2010 at 08:44

John Ivison: Nothing baffling about Day’s crime comments

Jason Payne/Postmedia News

Jason Payne/Postmedia News

Stockwell Day: no gaffes here.

  August 3, 2010 – 8:16 pm

It had all the hallmarks of a classic Stockwell Day gaffe, a highlight reel moment comparable to his comment during the 2000 election that Canadian jobs were flowing south “just like the Niagara River,” which actually flows north.

The Treasury Board Secretary held a news conference in Ottawa to talk about the economy but reporters were more interested in why the government is intent on spending $9-billion on prisons at a time of declining crime rates and fiscal restraint.

“We’re very concerned about the increase in the amount of unreported crimes that surveys clearly show are happening,” replied Mr. Day.

Like sharks sniffing blood, reporters circled, claiming to be “baffled”. “There’s a statistic about unreported crimes? I mean, if they’re not reported, by definition we have no idea about these crimes,” said David Akin of Sun Media.

Mr. Day babbled nonsense like a man with a concussion, leaving the distinct impression that Liberal critic Mark Holland was correct when he said later that the minister was making it up as he went along.

But he wasn’t. It turns out that every five years Statistics Canada asks Canadians about their experience of crime. The Crime Victimization study, part of the broader General Social Survey, found that in 2004 only about 34% of criminal incidents came to the attention of the police, down from 37% in 1999 and 42% in 1993.

Beyond being inconvenient for Mr. Holland, who insisted “we [the Liberal party] trust facts that come from Statistics Canada,” it is a staggering number. It suggests that nearly two-thirds of the offences in the eight major crime categories included in the Crime Victimization study were not reported to police, either because it was not deemed important enough, because the victim did not want the police involved or because of fear of reprisal.

Many of these incidents involve the theft of personal property but more than half of all violent incidents, including nearly 90% of all sexual assaults, went unreported.

This is clearly a contributory reason why nearly one-third of Canadians think the level of crime increased in the five years prior to 2004, despite official statistics that show most categories of crime (including violent crime) have been falling since 1991

Mr. Day was quick to claim some credit for those numbers — “I think some of that is because of the large amount of resources we’ve put into some areas of preventative criminal justice issues” — even if it’s clear that the crime rate started falling long before his government came to power.

But the long-term increase in unreported crimes is a worrying trend. If the next Crime Victimization study shows a further rise, it will provide the Conservatives more ammunition for their hang ’em high routine. It may not play well with Liberal supporters, for whom respect for authority and personal responsibility are less important than equality and respect for diversity. But the opinion polls suggest that crime prevention ranks among Canadians’ top priorities when it comes to government action. For those who feel vulnerable to property and violent crime, Mr. Day’s talk of ending conditional sentences for home invasion and aggravated assault doesn’t sound quite so ridiculous.

National Post
jivison@nationalpost.com

Posted in: Canada, Full Comment 

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